milk and honey: Moments in the Capitol
“Do you want to read my bill about gentrification?” Our high school intern asks me this as I’m watching the Republican National Convention and suppressing the desire to scream at the screen as the crowd chants “Trump, Trump, Trump!” I immediately shift my attention toward her, a mixture of pride, surprise, relief and anguish simultaneously flowing through me. She is in the Capitol for an Upward Bound summer program to learn about policy and take the initiative to understand the issues affecting our state and nation. I think, “Wow, she is only about to begin her senior year of high school,” and then I am taken aback at my narrow thought process. I remind myself that actions for change often start with young women like us who have desire and drive. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in her shoes, defying expectations and rebelling against the conservative clouds that fogged up my image of myself. Unfortunately, thought processes that limit our perception of what women are capable of are often the norm. As sad as it is, we’re often told to forget about the power and passion young women have at all ages. And we internalize this, often forgetting our own worth and voice. I’m crushed knowing that while women are on the front lines in the wars over our bodies and minds in politics and society, we’re also fighting the patriarchal demons in our bodies and minds internally.
All of these thoughts migrate through my mind in the seconds that tick by as the Republican National Convention flashes in the background. Our intern reads me her bill about supplying resources to established community-oriented organizations to alleviate gentrification and support low-income communities. I’m filled with pride. I smile as she laughingly and proudly points out that her bill passed both houses and was signed into law by their Governor. What a beautiful moment to share with her! Moments like these remind me why I keep going. Moments like these inspire me. Moments like these give me faith. Young women like her, whose potentials are limited only by the boxes and stereotypes society places them in, are our bright future.
A few weeks back, I was officially promoted to Legislative Assistant in Senator Carol Liu’s office, and I can’t really describe the rollercoaster of emotions that have washed over me. I never imagined post-grad life would present me with this opportunity to work in the Capitol building. I believe an opportunity like this deserves my full passion and dedication for the time I’m here. Just as I was promoted, our office hosted two of the Girl Scout Gold Award winners. After the Women’s Equality Day breakfast, we visited the Senate Education Committee to see Senator Liu chair the hearing, then discussed college opportunities and STEM majors. I shared my experiences and some of Senator’s Liu history in the Legislature, not realizing in the moment how fulfilled I felt giving advice to these successful young women. A week after their visit, I received a letter from one of the girls expressing how thankful she was for my knowledge, confidence, and kindness. Another beautiful moment. I hope I instilled her with at least a glimmer of confidence that she could also be a triple major like me and focus on both science and social science, a glimmer of confidence that even when she feels lost or scared, she is stronger than she thinks possible, a glimmer of confidence that she is beautiful inside and out and should never be afraid to speak her mind loudly and proudly. Again, young women like her, whose potentials are limited only by the boxes and stereotypes society places them in, are our bright future.
As the month of August inches closer, I’m mentally preparing myself for the hectic days (and most likely some nights) at the office. I’ve been assigned to handle floor jockey requests and a few bills, and I hope I’m able to do them justice. After hosting meetings with lobbyists and interested parties, I’m grateful for my education, but most of all, I’m grateful for my gender and ethnic studies classes that taught me the most about recognizing and fixing inequities. Starting with our constituents’ experiences, I hope to use the tools I learned in college and from our constituents themselves to empower them to create change in their own lives as well as in the legislature. Although much of what we learn is in the classroom, I will always maintain that many of the best learning opportunities are outside of the classroom with hands-on experience, observation, and active listening.
My journey this summer encompassed my reflection on a lot of broad issues our state and nation are encountering right now, ranging from homelessness to pollution to gendered pay inequalities to lack of access to quality long-term health care. Though we may feel lost, frustrated, or hopeless about the direction we are going in society or on a personal level, I believe everyone is an agent of change. But substantive change requires not just active listening but also critical thinking and a willingness to understand one another’s perspective. While our nation fluxes through turmoil, it’s so important we take action to give space to hurting communities to speak and heal. Yet it is absolutely necessary that we all actively work to disarm hatred, avoid resorting to violence, and share kindness and love. We all share this world, we all belong here, and we all deserve respect, no matter the color of our skin, gender identification, sexual orientation, ability, or citizenship status. The future I’m imagining is bright, and though I often believe I can change the world by myself, we each have something unique to contribute.
As I slowly flip through rupi kaur’s milk and honey and twiddle my “Keep Calm – I’m the Doctor” bookmark in between my shaky fingers, I can’t help but reminisce on the moments that led me here. A sinking feeling envelops my stomach as I realize the rest of the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellows won’t be in the Capitol with me from now on. But I remind myself to be brave, to be myself. I am so grateful to have shared a thrilling summer with the other Fellows. This was a one-of-a-kind experience with some one-of-a-kind Berkeley Bears. I’m sentimental and often cheesy, so my goodbyes are tear-ridden and genuinely from the heart. I’m surrounded by truly gifted and intelligent individuals who inspire me in so many ways. Thank you all so much for being you and for giving your heart to public service and social justice.